- Inaugural UPFA rally held without its leader’s photograph
- Pro-Good Governance forces vow to defeat Rajapaksa elements
President Maithripala Sirisena, last week, broke the deafening sound of silence he maintained for several weeks by re-aligning himself with the mandate and forces that voted him to office at the January 8th Presidential polls in hope of a positive change in the country.
Last week, it seemed like Sirisena had managed to checkmate Mahinda Rajapaksa.
This column, last week, stated that Sirisena is scheduled to make a statement after the conclusion of nominations on the 13th, in which he would distance himself from the UPFA election campaign that is being dominated by pro-Mahinda Rajapaksa group.
Sirisena’s fiery statement, last week, albeit a few weeks late, did manage to shake up the very roots of the Rajapaksa camp that was spearheading the UPFA election campaign. Whether he managed to rally the five elements of the SLFP is yet to be seen.
Be that as it may, the neutral stance adopted by Sirisena at the general elections would deal a severe blow to the UPFA led by the SLFP. It was the fear of defeat that drove most former SLFP MPs to make statements condemning the President’s comment.
It was a clear indication of the psyche of the SLFP, i.e. to gravitate around the center that wields power at the time, regardless of policy. This was witnessed soon after the Presidential polls this year after Sirisena recorded a victory.
Those who made critical remarks about Sirisena made a quick U-turn after the polls, claiming the SLFP emerged victorious since its general secretary had assumed office as the President. Sirisena was then accepted as the leader of the SLFP and eventually the UPFA.
Sirisena, with his decision to allow Rajapaksa and his company secure nominations for the general elections, prevented a split in the SLFP and, at the same time, managed to single handedly block the UPFA election campaign even before it commenced.
The UPFA campaign now led by Rajapaksa knew very well the importance of showing some strength before its supporters lose faith in the Alliance leaders. It is this sentiment that resulted in Rajapaksa stating that he would respond to Sirisena’s speech in Anuradhapura and asked the media to participate in it.
The inaugural election rally of the UPFA was held on Friday (17) in Anuradhapura under the patronage of Kurunegala District UPFA candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa and, interestingly, without any photograph of the leader of the UPFA as well as the SLFP, President Sirisena, at the venue.
Following Sirisena’s neutral stance and the criticism levelled against a majority of the UPFA nominees, including Rajapaksa, on Tuesday (14), something of a rebellion took place at the SLFP headquarters at Darley Road the next day.
General Secretaries of the SLFP and UPFA, Anura Priyadharshana Yapa and Susil Premajayantha , respectively, were assigned the task of rallying all forces in the SLFP as well as the Alliance under one programme.
A request was made by senior SLFPer Janaka Bandara Tennakoon seeking a meeting of the SLFP central committee on Wednesday (15) evening to discuss and clarify the stance of the SLFP leadership. Yapa was quick to send out a message to the SLFP central committee members stating that an emergency meeting would be convened that evening at 8PM.
However, the SLFP leadership had not called for such a meeting, giving root to the controversy that resulted in the matter being taken before court.
The pro-Rajapaksa group immediately commenced an operation to muster the support of a majority of the SLFP central committee before the meeting planned for the evening.
Meanwhile, UPFA Colombo District candidate and Sirisena loyalist, Prasanna Solangarachchi petitioned the court seeking an interim order against the holding of the meeting saying that such a meeting could not be convened without the consent of the party leadership.
An interim order was duly issued preventing the holding of the SLFP central committee meeting until the 29th of this month.
Rajapaksa and his group of SLFPers tried to oust the pro-Sirisena SLFPers, who are now contesting under the good governance alliance at the election, from the SLFP.
However, realising that their plan was not going according to plan, Susil Premajayantha and Anura Priyadarshana Yapa arrived at the SLFP headquarters at Darley Road.
Several pro-Rajapaksa SLFPers along with a few UPFA party leaders arrived at the Darley Road building and congregated at the SLFP national organiser’s office.
A little later, Rajapaksa made his way to the SLFP headquarters and to the meeting room where he sat at the head of the table with President Maithripala Sirisena’s photograph above his head.
Carrying the famous gold medallion, Rajapaksa sat on the “big chair”, emulating the role of campaign leader.
It was then decided to rile the emotions of SLFPers over Sirisena’s statement.
While several SLFP members made statements to the media about the lack of clarity in the party’s path during election time, three UPFA deputy ministers, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Sudharshani Fernandopulle and Eric Weerawardena, resigned from their portfolios, last week, as a mark of protest against Sirisena’s statement.
Meanwhile, another group of SLFPers currently holding ministerial portfolios had received threats from individuals demanding that they resign from the government and show their displeasure at Sirisena.
Fisheries Minister Mahinda Amaraweera, last week, claimed that he needed to decide on his future in politics.
However, at the Cabinet meeting that was held on Wednesday morning, Amaraweera has told several of his colleagues that he is under pressure to resign from the government and in some instances the pressure has turned to threats.
When the colleagues had inquired if he was going to give in to the threats, Amaraweera has said he needed time to decide.
Although Amaraweera stated that he would make public his decision in a few days, he did not speak of the issue later on.
The inaugural rally of the UPFA in Anuradhapura ran into its first snag when a key member of the campaign, especially in the Anuradhapura District, announced that he would not participate in the meeting.
Sirisena loyalist, SLFP Vice Secretary, Agriculture Minister Duminda Dissanayake was firm in his stance not to participate in the rally organized in Anuradhapura.
Dissanayake had informed members of the Rajapaksa group that he would provide logistical support required for the rally, but would not participate in it.
The message was immediately conveyed to Rajapaksa who had spoken to Dissanayake over the phone. He had asked Dissanayake why he did not want to participate in the rally.
Dissanayake had explained that he defected from the former regime and campaigned for a good governance programme at the January 8th Presidential election and will therefore not act in any manner that would violate such principles.
Rajapaksa had insisted that Dissanayake participate in the rally. Dissanayake had stood his ground and said he could not participate in the event.
Dissanayake had then been approached by several Rajapaksa aides trying to persuade him to change his stance. The young SLFP minister had said that these are issues that should have been anticipated by Rajapaksa and his team when they tried to bulldoze their way in an election campaign. Dissanayake has said that pro-Rajapaksa elements acted with scant regard to the people’s mandate on January 8th and that people who supported the good governance programme could therefore not betray the people who had placed their confidence in the programme.
Nevertheless, it is no secret that the people have been defeated by certain politicians in the first round of the 2015 general election. The defeat was when a large component of members of the system that was defeated by a majority of the people in the country on January 8th this year were granted nominations to contest at next month’s polls.
The UPFA has clearly indicated that it did not value the sentiments of the majority. While a few individuals were not granted nominations, a large portion of members of the former regime who are facing various accusations are now in the fray. It seems that the likes of Duminda Silva, Mervyn Silva and Sajin Vass Gunawardena were not granted nominations mostly for personal reasons. Sarana Gunawardena, who was not granted nominations by the UPFA, cannot be included in the list since his wife was given the green light to contest from the Gampaha District.
It is in this backdrop that the forces that rallied together to bring about a change at the last Presidential election have once again commenced a campaign against the Rajapaksa policies.
The people’s movement – Puravesi Balay – held a well attended rally in Nugegoda, last week, where intellectuals, media personnel and artists vowed to defend the January 8th mandate and defeat elements that acted against it.
It is clear that Rajapaksa, in usual fashion, had engaged in certain actions without much consideration, swayed by sugar coated words of orators like Wimal Weerawansa, Dinesh Gunawardena, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Dullas Alahapperuma.
While major shortcomings in Rajapaksa’s decision making resulted in his defeat on January 8th, he has not shown much improvement even in the post-defeat scenario.
The first mistake made by Rajapaksa was to announce his decision to contest at the next general election, second was to continue to want to contest at the election even without the assurance of being appointed as the Prime Minister in the next parliament in the event of a UPFA victory, third was to enlist individuals who have lost public faith to contest at the general election and the fourth is the manner in which he is continuing to ignore the public sentiments.
Given that many forces are now rallying around the UNP led good governance alliance, it is likely that Rajapaksa may end up as a back bencher in the next parliament when it convenes after the August 17th general election.